Sunday, October 15, 2006

Political links of the week take 27

[You can skip to the end of this post, if you want. See also: political news of the week takes 26, 25, 24, 23, 22, 21, 20, 19, 18. 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9b, 9a, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.]

Study: War blamed for 655,000 Iraqi deaths:
War has wiped out about 655,000 Iraqis or more than 500 people a day since the U.S.-led invasion, a new study reports.

Violence including gunfire and bombs caused the majority of deaths but thousands of people died from worsening health and environmental conditions directly related to the conflict that began in 2003, U.S. and Iraqi public health researchers said.

"Since March 2003, an additional 2.5 percent of Iraq's population have died above what would have occurred without conflict," according to the survey of Iraqi households, titled "The Human Cost of the War in Iraq." (Watch as the study's startling results are revealed -- 1:55 Video)

The survey, being published online by British medical journal The Lancet, gives a far higher number of deaths in Iraq than other organizations. (Read the full report -- pdf)

President Bush slammed the report Wednesday during a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. "I don't consider it a credible report. Neither does Gen. (George) Casey," he said, referring to the top ranking U.S. military official in Iraq, "and neither do Iraqi officials."

"The methodology is pretty well discredited," he added.

Ali Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, said in a statement that the report "gives exaggerated figures that contradict the simplest rules of accuracy and investigation."

Last December, Bush said that he estimated about 30,000 people had died since the war began.

When pressed whether he stood by that figure Wednesday, he said, "I stand by the figure a lot of innocent people have lost their life. Six hundred thousand -- whatever they guessed at -- is just not credible."

Researchers randomly selected 1,849 households across Iraq and asked questions about births and deaths and migration for the study led by Gilbert Burnham of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

They extrapolated the figures to reflect the national picture, saying Iraq's death rate had more than doubled since the invasion.

Report: British Army chief calls for Iraq pullout (original article in the London Daily Mail):
The chief of the British Army has called for a pullout of British troops from Iraq "sometime soon" and said that post-invasion planning for that war was "poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning."

Gen. Richard Dannatt told London's Daily Mail newspaper that he had "more optimism" that "we can get it right in Afghanistan."

Dannatt said that Britain's continued presence in Iraq had made the country less secure.

Britain should "get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates security problems," he told the newspaper in an interview published Thursday.

"I don't say that the difficulties we are experiencing round the world are caused by our presence in Iraq, but undoubtedly our presence in Iraq exacerbates them."

Dannatt, who took over as the Army's chief of general staff in August, said that the U.S.-led coalition's plan to establish a democracy in Iraq that would be "exemplar for the region" was unlikely to happen.

"That was the hope, whether that was a sensible or naive hope, history will judge," he said. "I don't think we are going to do that. I think we should aim for a lower ambition."

Dannatt's views directly contradicts the position of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is a staunch supporter of the war and U.S. President George W. Bush's closest ally in the fight.

Blair and Bush both insist that troops must stay in Iraq until Iraqi security forces are able to stand up on their own.

But with the country edging nearer to civil war -- if not already immersed in it -- Dannatt said that the strategy for implementing an Iraqi democracy was ill-prepared.

""I think history will show that the planning for what happened after the initial, successful war-fighting phase was poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning," he said.

Dannatt said that Britain had essentially overstayed its welcome in Iraq.

"The military campaign we fought in 2003 effectively kicked the door in," he said, noting that was a far cry from being invited into the country.

"Whatever consent we may have had in the first place may have turned to tolerance and has largely turned to intolerance."

At Least 75 Bodies Found in Baghdad Since Monday (written on Tuesday 10/10/06):
At least 75 corpses have been found in the Baghdad area since Monday morning, authorities said today, most of them bound, riddled with bullets, and showing signs of torture.

The grim discoveries reflected a familiar pattern of death-squad killings and sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital.

A Ministry of Interior spokesman said today that 60 of the bodies were found in Baghdad in the 24-hour period ending this morning, while 15 more were discovered during the day today.

In addition, at least five bombs exploded in the capital area, killing at least 14 civilians and 6 policemen, and injuring 23 people, the ministry and the police sources said.

The discovery of the bodies recalled a day just over a week ago when as many as 60 corpses were found in the capital, many of them apparently shot in the head at close range after being tortured. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a United States military spokesman, said at the time that such killings and other murders continued to claim more people in Baghdad than suicide bombings did.

Sectarian Killings in Iraq Leave 83 Dead in 2 Days (written on Sunday 10/15/06):
At least 83 people were killed during a two-day spree of sectarian revenge killings, as Iraq's government said Sunday it was indefinitely postponing a much-anticipated national reconciliation conference.

Separately, the U.S. military reported the deaths of a Marine and four soldiers.

A brief statement from the Ministry of State for National Dialogue said only that the Iraqi political powers conference planned for Saturday had been put off because of unspecified ''emergency reasons out of the control of the ministry.''

The failure to bring Iraq's divided politicians together appeared likely to hurt Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attempts to strengthen political consensus, underscoring the effect worsening violence is having on efforts to stabilize the U.S.-backed government and curb the bloodshed.

An Iraqi militant group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq announced Sunday in a video that it has established an Islamic Iraqi state, comprising six provinces -- including Baghdad -- that are largely Sunni and parts of two central provinces that are predominiately Shiite.

That statement came from the Mujahedeen Shura Council -- an umbrella organization of insurgent groups in Iraq that have be trying to drive out U.S. forces and topple Iraq's fragile government.

''We bring you good news of the founding and the formation of the Islamic Iraqi State ... to protect our people,'' said a man identified in the video as the group's spokesman.

Biologist Bushwhacks His Way to Court:
He has spent decades working to protect Los Angeles' endangered Ballona Wetlands.

But did environmentalist Roy van de Hoek go too far when he took his pruning shears to a nonnative tree and plants in the Westside nature preserve?

Los Angeles prosecutors say yes. They have filed six vandalism counts against Van de Hoek, alleging that he entered the wetlands without permission and destroyed city parks property when he cut down the invasive plants. If convicted, he could face six years in prison and fines of up to $15,000.

Conservationists who support the veteran ecologist disagree. They assert that the prosecution is simply payback from those who for years have felt the sting of Van de Hoek's activism. The case, they suggest, is designed to scare away others from actively harvesting invasive plants from local nature preserves.

Van de Hoek has not denied cutting the plants. Characterizing the eradication work as a continuation of his years of plant removal in the wetlands, he said he intends to plead not guilty to the charges Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. But for now, he has been banned from leading tours and doing rehabilitation work at the wetlands, where Ballona Creek meets the ocean south of Marina del Rey.

"My entire life has been dedicated to conservation, preservation and restoration of endangered species and wild lands," said Van de Hoek, 50, of Playa del Rey.

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